When was the last time you picked up the phone and called to hear the time and temperature?
If you’re a Denver-area old-timer, you might remember dialing 303-844-4444 to hear the phone company’s time-and-temp line (though you probably didn’t dial the area code back then).
The line is back in service these days, thanks to John Lochridge, a Texas telecom worker. Since 2011, Lochridge has been steadily buying up and reinstating old time-and-temperature lines around the country. He’s up to several hundred numbers, spread among nearly every state. Lochridge’s Denver line gets about a thousand calls a month, he said.
“In a world where things are changing a lot, people like having things that stay the same,” Lochridge said by phone from his home in Dallas. “There’s a lot of nostalgia that comes with this. It’s something from childhood.”
Lochridge’s lines are just some of perhaps thousands of recorded information lines that once provided everything from movie times to prayers across the country. Though many have died out in the Internet Age, some survive.
Old folks might find it easier to get their info the old-fashioned way, Lochridge said, but some callers have a deeper connection.
“One lady told me she used to call the time and temperature while her husband was away at war, to hear a human voice,” Lochridge said. “Another told me she called while she was lonely in the hospital, just to hear someone over the phone.”
Weather or not
Other local lines have lots of devoted users. Elaine Huff is one of them. “I’m not real tech savvy, but I love keeping up with the weather,” said Huff, 78.
She fell in love with the big thunderheads that rolled over her Nebraska farm as a girl, she said. Even today, from her Littleton condo, Huff picks up the phone — sometimes three times a day when the weather’s wild — and punches in 303-337-2500.
“Welcome to the Weatherline Forecast Service, brought to you by the Denver Post.”
Unchanged in format for decades, the Weatherline reads the time, temperature, and after an ad, a weather forecast updated several times a day by meteorologist Tim Root.
The line still gets 50,000-75,000 calls a month, said Brian Trujillo, the Denver Post’s circulation manager, who runs the line.
The service has credibility, said Root, the chief meteorologist and owner of Florida-based Weather Watch Service, who records twice-daily forecasts for Denver and dozens of other lines around the country.
“I’m not some automated aggregator website,” Root said. “I’m a real meteorologist. Callers trust a human interpretation — a human voice.”
Callback to another era
Information lines have their origins in the early days of widespread telephone use, said Jim Hebbeln, a volunteer at the Telecommunications History Group, a Denver-based nonprofit that preserves the heritage of the American telecom industry.
Being able to accurately set clocks became more important as America grew more urban and industrial in the early 20th century, Hebbeln said, as people increasingly needed to catch trains and arrive at work at a set time.
“So many people would call just asking the time, that big cities would have one operator whose job was just to stare at a clock and read off the time all day,” Hebbeln said.
Automatic recordings came along in the late 1940s, Hebbeln said, where a machine would “read” recorded times and temperatures off a series of magnetic tapes on successive drums.
“Even nowadays, those recorded lines can be important, because they’re less susceptible to failure or sabotage” than electronic media, Hebbeln said.
It’s still storytime
Some recorded lines are still on the grow.
Many libraries long ago ditched their dial-a-story lines, where callers could hear a recording of a children’s story, but Denver Public Library’s has never been better, said Alberto Pellicer, who runs DPL’s Phone-A-Story at 720-865-8500.
Up from four options a couple years ago, the line currently offers nine options to callers, with stories, songs riddles and rhymes in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Amharic — the primary language of the Denver area’s large Ethiopian population. The line is getting more than 2,000 calls a month, Pellicer said, up from about 300 a month a few years ago.
“You can be in line at the grocery store or driving to Kansas,” Pellicer said. “It makes me proud that people want to encourage their kids to listen to stories and be involved with books and characters.”
Callers can leave a voicemail requesting stories, Pellicer said, and staff try to update the line at least once a week.
Teachers and home-school parents have told him they’ve devised activities around Phone-A-Story, like having kids call but hang up before the end of the story to write their own.
“We work to ensure the stories are good for building vocabulary, and we hope it encourages kids to come to their local library and pick out a book,” Pellicer said.
Unlike YouTube, Phone-A-Story is guaranteed to provide kids with thoughtful, enlightening content, Pellicer said.
Library staff are kicking around ideas to expand the line to more languages and options, Pellicer said.
“Callers enjoy it, and we enjoy producing it,” Pellicer said. “We hope to stick around for a long time.”